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Conrad Black testifies he's had 'no alternative' but to fight to clear his name

David Friend, The Canadian Press

Conrad Black walks past reporters while arriving for his hearing at the Ontario Securities Commission in Toronto on Friday, October 10, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Conrad Black walks past reporters while arriving for his hearing at the Ontario Securities Commission in Toronto on Friday, October 10, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

TORONTO - Conrad Black told Canada's largest securities regulator Friday that he's had "no alternative" but to fight to clear his name of allegations and U.S. criminal convictions that he considers illegitimate.

It was the first time that the former Hollinger executive has been able to testify and defend himself publicly before the Ontario Securities Commission, which oversees Canada's largest stock market and many of its publicly traded companies.

The provincial regulator is considering whether Black and former Hollinger chief financial officer John Boultbee should be banned from acting as directors, officers or registrants of public companies following two U.S. criminal convictions.

The OSC process has been sidelined for nearly a decade as Black faced numerous fraud-related charges in the U.S. and ultimately served time in prison for two of them. Boultbee was convicted of one count of fraud in the U.S.

Black has previously been a director of several major companies, including CIBC, and was both an officer and director of several of the companies within the Hollinger newspaper group that he also controlled as a major shareholder.

But he told the OSC panel Friday at a hearing that he has no plans to hold that type of position again within Ontario's jurisdiction, which includes most publicly traded companies on Canada's largest stock exchange.

Black, a 70-year-old businessman who gave up his Canadian citizenship in order to accept an appointment to the British House of Lords in 2001, has always insisted that he didn't break the law. He was successful in having most of the U.S. charges against him withdrawn and most of the convictions overturned after a series of appeals.

Known for his elaborate prose, Black said doesn't believe any of the U.S. accusations against him were legitimate but he is determined to defend his reputation.

"The United States government attacked me and my family in all sorts of places -- including through the Internal Revenue Service, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Department of Justice," Black told the OSC panel Friday.

"Obviously the correlation of forces between the United States government and myself is a very unpromising one but I determined there was no alternative, as there was no legitimacy to any of the allegations, to fight as best I could, to fight all of them, everywhere, as long as it took."

The OSC alleges that he, along with other directors and officers of Toronto-based Hollinger Inc. and Chicago-based Hollinger International, used non-competition payments to line their pockets with money that should have gone to the companies and their shareholders.

The payments were related to Hollinger International's sale of a group of small newspapers in the United States.

OSC lawyer Anna Perschy argued earlier this week that Black and Boultbee wrongly took $600,000 from Hollinger in the form of non-compete payments and that they have not taken responsibility for their actions despite convictions in the U.S.

"Convicted fraudsters are not welcome," she said Wednesday in her opening statements.

Black's lawyer Peter Howard has argued that lawyers for the regulator are giving a "myopic picture" of what really happened at Hollinger, that Black has served his time for his actions and there's only an "infinitesimally small" chance that his client will run afoul of the law in the future.

The OSC case against Black began in 2005, but was adjourned while he faced criminal charges in the United States.

Of the many charges levelled against him by the U.S. Justice Department, Black was only convicted of one count of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice.

He served 37 months of a 42-month sentence in a Florida prison, and was fined US$125,000.

Black is the last of three witnesses to be called by Howard, who fought to get his client before the OSC panel to speak for himself.